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Changes ahead

Monday November 1st, 2010

By Morven MacNeil, GO Features Editor

Duncan Eaton

The GO NHS Procurement Conference 2010 provided delegates with vital inform

ation about the latest developments taking place within the health sector.

Following the formation of the Coalition Government in May and the publication of the Chancellor’s Emergency Budget in June, major changes have been felt already across the entire public sector, including the NHS. Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to increase spending on frontline services within the NHS while cutting red tape – good news for suppliers to the health care market.

The Government Opportunities NHS Procurement Conference 2010 – Current Issues: Future Plans, held recently at the Marriott Liverpool City Centre, looked at how procurement is changing at all levels within the NHS in England, covering current issues and future plans.

The conference brought together a number of senior figures from the worlds of procurement, finance and industry. With the NHS’s focus on regional procurement, the event featured a variety of speakers who provided delegates with the latest local as well as national perspectives, explaining what is currently on the agenda for health care procurement and what can be expected to happen in the future.

In 2008, following an Office of Government Commerce led Capability Review, a new Commercial Operating Model was designed on behalf of the Department of Health and the NHS. This was published in May 2009, entitled Necessity – not nicety, and resulted in the disbanding of the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency (NHS PASA), with some of PASA’s work transferring to Buying Solutions. In 2010, this model was superseded by a policy document entitled Commercial Skills for the NHS.

Chairing the GO NHS Procurement Conference 2010 were Neil Argyle, Former Director, NHS PASA and Duncan Eaton, Former Chief Executive, NHS PASA. All delegates were able to text their questions to them via handheld mobile devices, which made for a more interactive day.

Mr Eaton outlined two key themes – change in the NHS and change in the procurement profession. He said: “The NHS is seeing itself rapidly changing. I think there’s no doubt whatsoever that the changes that are going on now, that will go on for the next few years, are the biggest that have ever happened in the history of the NHS. From the supplier point of view, what is happening is going to have a very significant impact on those who trade with the NHS.

“The procurement world as it fits into the NHS is another key theme. It’s a very dynamic situation, a lot more fluid than ever I knew it during my time at the NHS. The structure is different, and the interaction between the different elements of the procurement world has changed.”

Bob Dredge, Senior Fellow at the School of Public Policy, Keele University looked at the macro level of the NHS. He focused on public sector finance in the UK and its impact on the health service. Setting the context, he informed suppliers that health spend is split into four areas – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – as health is a devolved power. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have traditional socialised health care systems that allocate money to their hospitals directly. Until now each of these regions has had a block funding allocation, with individual hospitals deciding how the money was spent. England has had a different system since 2004 – single payment by results – which means each Primary Care Trust is paid for each patient treated.

Andrew Rudd, Former Chief Operating Officer, NHS PASA, focused on procurement eEnablement. He said: “In terms of public procurement, you will have noticed the pressure on government spending at the moment. How can eProcurement help that? To deliver specifically procurement savings, and to effect change and drive efficiency across the health service, the NHS needs to have better access to quality information. It needs to develop the skills to exploit that information, because otherwise all you’ve got is data. Then you have to find the opportunities. And then you have to turn those opportunities into reality.

“eProcurement is a key enabler for all of the above objectives, and without better data or information everything that has been talked about – savings, targets – is at the very best unmeasurable, and that’s been a criticism over the years.

“We have to remember that the NHS is not one organisation. It’s a system, and within that system lots of organisations operate. It just depends on the power from the top whether they decide to work in one way or differently, and that will continue.”

Overall, the GO NHS Procurement Conference 2010 provided crucial information on recent developments within the NHS market and health sector procurement processes.

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